Thursday, 08 December 2016 10:47

Regional coalition supportive of push for better data, voice services in USO review Featured

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The newly-formed coalition fighting to improve communications services in regional Australia is hopeful voice and broadband access for Australians living and working in rural and remote areas will be improved as a result of a review of the telecoms Universal Service Obligations.

The Regional Rural and Remote Communications Coalition, led by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), has welcomed the release of the Productivity Commission’s report into the USO and its findings that the current arrangements are in need of urgent reform.

In its report released on Tuesday, the Commission called for the USO to be scrapped, labelling it as "difficult to justify", and "anachronistic” and in need of change.

The coalition of regional groups says achieving a USO that is “technology neutral” and that provides access to both voice and data is one of the fundamental pillars that prompted its formation.

One member of the coalition, NSW Farmers Association president, Derek Schoen, says it is pleasing that the PC has recognised that the current USO agreement is out of date and that voice and broadband access should be part of the USO into the future.

“A temperamental landline doesn’t provide the connectivity that farm businesses need. Reliable access to fast internet is set to be the key driver of agricultural productivity,” Schoen says.

“A modernised USO that includes minimum standards for voice and data is something that all political parties should support. It will have unambiguous benefits for rural, regional and remote Australians.”

The current USO only guarantees supply of a standard telephone voice service, and Schoen says that this is out of step with the services that consumers are now using.

“The USO must be broadened to also guarantee data services. We support the Commission’s call for a “modernised and forward-looking approach to the subsidy and support arrangements that form universal telecommunications services in Australia,” he said.

ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin is pleased that the PC report views the NBN as a “key infrastructure centrepiece which can be leveraged”.

“Moving forward we must be mindful of how the rollout is progressing and that current challenges with Sky Muster, which have been acknowledged by NBN Co, are addressed.

“Existing issues with Sky Muster create questions about its suitability as the sole form of connection for regional, rural and remote Australians should the current USO be abolished. The coalition will be considering this carefully in its response.”

National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson, also a member of the new regional coalition, says reforming the USO should not lower the baseline service, and if any change in this area results in a “lower level of service to consumers in regional, rural and remote areas it would be very concerning”.

“The timing of any changes that may be made will be crucial to ensure that no consumer is worse off in the transition or disconnected due to reforms. The order of any changes implemented will need to be given careful consideration.

“The challenge now will be working with the Productivity Commission and Australian government to ensure that the correct transitional arrangements are identified and form part of the solution.”


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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